McElwain School Adaptive Reuse

Bridgewater, MA


CC / MPZ Main Street LLC


LEED Gold for Homes / Passive House anticipated


Historic rehabilitation / expansion of a 1912 school to create 70,000 SF of housing (90% affordable) with 57 units in one new and two existing buildings, and more than 17,000 SF of accessible public green space.


The McElwain School, built in 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, had been vacant since 1997. The community of Bridgewater long sought a viable way to preserve and retain the historic building, standing on two acres of land just northwest of the town’s historic central business district. The town wanted to ensure that the building was preserved and activated with new occupancies that prioritized families and aging seniors, while meeting strict funding challenges, affordable housing regulatory requirements and the goals of local community groups.

Design Solution

PCA found resourceful ways to retain the best features of the building and its densely wooded site, rehabilitating the McElwain School and its neighboring house and barn, adding a new residential building and a new public green.

The McElwain School restoration preserves virtually all historically significant details to National Park Service and Massachusetts Historic Commission standards. Reconfigured to create 16 2- and 3-bedroom units, the design integrates the original wood floors, classroom blackboards, built-in cabinetry, clerestory windows, and stairways, adding historically accurate windows, and repairing the original brick exterior and concrete trim. The existing 3-family residence and barn’s 2- and 3-bedroom units are renovated with historically accurate exterior and interior improvements,

A new three-story building provides 38 units in a mix of 1, 2, and 3 bedrooms. As the first Passive House multi-family development in Bridgewater, the design required rigorous design and testing of the building envelope throughout construction in order to dramatically reduce heating and cooling needs. The building is clad in neutral wood finishes, textured shake and clapboard siding as an homage to classic New England architecture, blending with the understory of trees and serving as a background for the historic school building.

A 17,000 SF of public green space, including a children’s play area and memorial park, further helps to transform the currently abandoned site into an active community place that honors Bridgewater’s past and helps spur future housing and economic development.